My boys were in trouble, and there was nothing I could do about it.
Well, I thought they were in trouble. I still to this day donít know if they really were or not. They were preteens, and an older guy was inappropriately pushing his way into their social circle. Whether intentionally or not, this guy had put himself in a position of influence over them, and for various reasons that I wonít specify, his influence might have been disastrous.
I could have given his behavior the benefit of the doubt, but that would have been a stretch. I saw red flags everywhere I looked. And when your kids are in danger, the benefit of the doubt shrinks drastically.
But you donít go making accusations or even insinuations about someone who, in spite of suspicions, might actually be a decent fellow with honest motivesóespecially when some fragile family dynamics would be shattered in the process. I was torn. It was a tricky situation, and it made me nervous.
Though I felt there was no way I could intervene appropriately, I knew I could talk to God about it. He knew exactly what was going on, even if I didnít. But something about the situation disturbed me deeply enough that I needed to do more than simply talk to God about it. I was really angry at the enemy for either (1) messing with my mind and filling me with paranoia, or (2) messing with my kids. And since the latter was a distinct possibility, I prayed angrily.
I wasnít angry directly at God necessarily, but I was downright militant in my prayers. As I prayed, I would make parenthetical comments to the devil himself, or to whichever of his minions might be involved in the situation. I would pace back and forth, gesturing furiously to whoever was listening in the spirit world, claiming the authority Jesus had given to his disciples and, through their testimony, to me. I would point my finger and shake my fist at unseen entities. I wanted them to hear everything I was asking God to do. Martin Luther is said to have thrown an inkwell at the devil one night, and I could relate to his violent temper. Anyone eavesdropping might have thought Iíd gone crazy, and maybe I had. Soldiers at war are often crazed by the combat. And I was at war.
Maybe I was just venting my emotions the only way I knew how. Maybe I was fulfilling some psychological need to exercise control in a situation over which I had no control. Or maybeóand this is the theory Iíve settled onóI was prompted by the Spirit of God to go to battle. Regardless, the person in question moved out of state within a week. He gave no explanations to anyone we knew; he just disappeared. And so did the threat to my boys.
Was there a connection between the emotional content of my prayers and the result I saw a few days later? I think there was. At the time, I thought only that there could have been a connection, but similar experiences later, plus hours of biblical research, have convinced me that violent prayers can be quite appropriateóand effective. One episode isnít enough to draw such conclusions, but Iíve experienced more than one such episode over the years. In my mind, it goes beyond coincidence.
By ďviolent,Ē I donít mean we pray for physical violence or expect any type of visible violence to result from our prayers. Thatís what the disciples wanted to do when they asked if they could call down fire on an unrepentant city, and Jesus clearly said no. Our prayers do not make people out to be targets.
What I mean by violent prayer is the kind of prayer that aggressively and fiercely challenges the enemyís agenda and actually does violence to his work. Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil. Destroy is a pretty violent word. This kind of prayer is brutal and messy. It reflects a to-the-death clash of kingdoms, and it requires that we pick a side and fight. It isnít pretty.
A Christian will have hostile emotions welling up inside when he or she is convinced the enemy of God is actively at work in a set of circumstances or a relationship. We often suppress such anger as an intrusion into our prayers rather than as a motivation for them. In the following pages, I suggest that those ďnegativeĒ emotions are often appropriate fuel for our conversations with God. The God who tells us he is jealous, whose wrath burns against injustice and iniquity, and who sent his Son into this world to destroy the works of the devil, understands.
That may be a new way of thinking for many Christians. We associate prayer with calm emotions or deep distress. We take our hopes, our dreams, our fears and anxieties, our agendas, and our needs to God all the time. But our anger? We frequently call it sin, even when itís perfectly in line with the holy anger he expresses in Scripture. In our spiritual depths, we hesitate to do violence.
Weíre much more accustomed to peaceful prayers that ask for more love or joy or hope; to passive prayers that ask God to remove the stresses of our lives so we donít have to deal with them or even be deeply emotional about them; and to instantaneous prayers that assume any delay to be a ďnoĒ answer. The thought of a kind of prayer that fills us with emotional hostility toward the forces of darkness, that requires us to be more active and involved than we want to be, that puts us in the thick of a battle that may take a whileóa long whileógoes against our assumptions about God and about the nature of prayer itself.
Weíll explore this in more depth later; for now, recognize that prayer may have dimensions many of us have never considered. After all, weíre talking to an infinite God whose ways are far above ours. It only makes sense that we havenít tapped into all of prayerís depth.
We never will, of course. But we can always go deeper, exploring the mysterious role God has given humanity to exercise authority within his sovereign plan. We know from the Bible that Godís will isnít always done and that human beings arenít the only rebels. Thereís a spiritual dimension thatís hostile to God and to those he calls his own. (This book looks at one aspect of relating to this hostile spiritual dimension, taking a narrow focus on prayers against evil. To get a broader picture of spiritual warfare, The Invisible War by Chip Ingram is an excellent treatment of the subject.)
Emotional hostility toward the evil that inhabits the spiritual realm is not inappropriate. Our prayers to a God who feels and inspires holy anger can be militant and, when necessary, violent.
Not only that, they can be remarkably, strangely effective.